Shared Responsibility, Shared Risk: Government, Markets and Social Policy in the Twenty-First Century

By Jacob S. Hacker; Ann O’Leary | Go to book overview

1
Sharing Risk and Responsibility
in a New Economic Era

JACOB S. HACKER

The roughly twenty months between President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 and the midterm elections of 2010 witnessed the passage of a number of reforms designed to improve economic security. The biggest by far was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed in March 2010—a landmark health care bill with a federal price tag of roughly $1 trillion over ten years that is predicted to newly insure more than 30 million Americans by 2019.1 But the health care bill was only one of several major steps taken to improve economic security amid the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. In addition, Congress passed a financial reform bill that will provide greater consumer protections for home buyers and borrowers; enacted (as part of the health care bill) a new long-term care insurance program and a substantial expansion of direct government student lending; and passed an economic stimulus package that included a major modernization of unemployment insurance.2

The chapters to come will examine these measures, their foci, and their effects. This initial chapter provides the broader context. The policy battles of 2009 and 2010 did not emerge fully formed out of the recent economic downturn. Rather, they were rooted in a deeper and longer-term transformation of our economy and our society that has increased the economic insecurity of American workers and their families. Five years ago, in a book that attempted to draw attention to this sea change and map out a new economic path, I called this transformation the “Great Risk Shift.”3 My argument was that economic risk had increasingly shifted from the broad shoulders of government and corporations onto the backs of American workers and their families. This sea change, I argued, had occurred in nearly every area of Americans’ finances, from jobs, health care, and retirement pensions to homes, personal savings, and strategies for balancing work and

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